Learning English as a foreign language is made monster easy by a new CD-Rom, writes Jill Day
Two children sit in front of a computer, absorbed in the game they are playing. On the screen, the wizard is building a multi-coloured monster. The children watch the presentation as the wizard carefully assembles the body parts: "Here is my monster's arm . . ." The children join in, imitating the voice, practising the names for the parts of the body, refining their pronunciation and intonation as they speak. The wizard builds a second monster, using the same key phrases. This time, the monster is a mixture of robot and clown, but the language remains constant. The children join in again, practising the core vocabulary together.
After this presentation, there is a game that enables the children to demonstrate what they have learned. The outline of the monster appears on the screen: "Find my monster's leg". The children point and click, listening to the voice and laughing at the monster as his body is revealed. As they work at the activity, three rosettes in the corner of the screen are filling with colour, recording their success in identifying the correct parts of the body. After they have built the third monster, the picture can be printed out as a record and the children can move on to the next activity.
Listen and Learn English - Starters is the first in a series of three CD-Roms from Homerton College, Cambridge. It is a resource for 6 to 11-year-olds who are in their first year of learning English as a foreign language. The content has been devised in conjunction with the Young Learners' Test, but the materials will integrate well with the majority of existing syllabuses. The children are expected to know the English alphabet, but all the other language needed to complete the tasks is presented in the CD-Rom materials.
The materials are divided into 14 topics, covering a vocabulary of more than 280 words. Each topic introduces a new area of vocabulary - such as numbers, family, body, fruit and vegetables, moving house - with opportunities for children to identify the words and use them in a number of simple phrases. There are three levels of difficulty, using the same core vocabulary but building up the demands on the child's mastery of English. The topics follow a standard approach, starting with a presentation of the language required to play the game.
Each new item is presented as a picture, followed by the spoken word, then the written word. The pace is designed to allow the children time to predict the word and to develop their pronunciation and intonation. The graphics are simple but effective in holding children's attention.
The presentation is followed by a game, encouraging the children to listen and identify the correct item by clicking on it. Often the game involves a conversation between two characters. Other activities involve spelling out words from the letter sack. The pace is measured, and there is a range of voices - adults' and children's - to enable the learner to become accustomed to differences in pitch and intonation.
The program records the children's performances, with details of the time taken on each activity and the scores.
The schools version is accompanied by a training video which demonstrates how to install and use the software. Sections on classroom management and planning give useful advice on incorporating the software into the curriculum. I was particularly struck by the discussion on using the software in a variety of situations, ranging from one computer per child to one computer with a whole class. The advantages of working in pairs or small groups are also considered.
Listen and Learn English - Starters is designed as a resource bank to supplement schemes for teaching the initial stages of English as a foreign language. Teachers of English as an additional language would find it valuable too. The materials are flexible enough for use in a wide range of teaching environments.
The authors are planning two more resource packs - Movers (out this month) and Flyers - which are designed for more experienced young learners. If they are constructed with as much care as Starters, they too will be valuable additions to existing resources.
Jill Day is a consultant for special needs and IT with Surrey Education Service